Sorry for the delay in posting – I got busy and distracted, and had to do some more deconstruction / reconstruction before writing this post. It’s still a work in progress, but here are a few thoughts on the mythology of the book of Revelation and on Christian eschatology in general:
Working Assumptions: 1) We can only see through a glass darkly and engage in a lot of speculation when we try to understand the end of the world as we know it, the age to come, and life after death. 2) I’ll take my pragmatic approach to evaluating what is useful (and not useful) in Christian eschatology. 3) Revelation and much New Testament eschatology isn’t primarily about the age to come – it’s mainly apocalyptic (ie. epic, mythological, political-theological) commentary on current affairs at the time of writing – but also full of eschatological overtones and expectations of a final victory of good over evil. It’s a fascinating mix of Jewish prophetic tradition, Persian & Greek mythology, and Jesus-centered messianic hope.
Basic Plot of Christian Eschatological Mythology (and many other epic myths including most modern action, fantasy, and superhero movies): There’s an epic battle between good and evil, God and Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. In the end, God wins. Evil is defeated and finally destroyed, which may involve annihilation, torment (or possibly rehabilitation?!?) of evil people. Good triumphs and the good / saved-by-grace chosen people are vindicated, comforted, and rewarded. An eternal kingdom of beauty, justice, peace: restored Shalom, is established.
Seeing Darkly: I don’t know for certain what the ‘age to come’ will be like, or if my individual consciousness will ‘literally’ continue after death. I’m very curious to know what will become of humanity, human civilization, the possibility of trans-humanism, the possibility of interplanetary colonization, the possibility of meeting other conscious beings, the future of the universe… perhaps some of our hopes for the future will be realized in some form in this physical universe, but all of that is shrouded in mystery as well. I believe my present consciousness and soul are emergent products of my physical brain and body. If my soul survives death in an alternate age to come – it will be because I am known and loved by God and God will preserve what God loves and re-embody me in some other unimaginable reality.
Useful Elements of Christian Eschatology: While I hold my hope loosely, I think hopeful thinking is pragmatically useful. It’s good to hope for a world of love, joy, peace: Shalom, and to believe that this hope will be realized one day. It’s good to believe in a cause bigger than myself. It’s good to believe that love survives death. It’s good to believe that I’m accountable for my actions, that there is some ultimate justice in the cosmos. Reward, fear, and shame are very low-level motivations for good behavior, but perhaps they have some role to play in our individual and collective spiritual formation. It’s good to hope that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. It’s good to believe that good wins.
Danger One – Ultimate Dualism & Exclusion: Is there really an epic battle between good and evil? It certainly feels that way much of the time. Sometimes military metaphors are good for inspiring courage, ‘righteousness’, justice, activism, and battle against the darkness within. BUT, wrongly applied, as it tragically often is, this metaphor fuels so much judgment, condemnation, self-righteousness, violence, hatred, us-them thinking, and dehumanization of the other. And when turned inward, it fuels so much self-loathing, shame, repression, and other misguided approaches to self improvement. There is no clear line between us & them, and no clear line even between the good and evil in our own hearts.
Danger Two – Escapism: Not Feeling at Home in the World, Not Feeling at Home in our Bodies, Not Accepting our Mortality, Not Living in the Present. (enough said for now)
Christian Eschatology May Actually Be More Nuanced After All: Biblical eschatology is a convoluted mess of mixed metaphors – and maybe that’s the point: Maybe Jesus just doesn’t fit neatly into the black and white plot structure of dualism. And so the Lion of Judah is also the Lamb that was Slain. And after the last battle, death and destruction, Armageddon, the lake of fire, etc., the vision ends with an ambiguous and hopeful image: There’s the new Jerusalem, the new city of Shalom. And outside are the evil doers (wait I thought they were already destroyed or suffering eternal torment in the lake of fire?) – no, there they are outside the gates. And yet, the gates are never shut, and there’s a stream flowing from the throne for the healing of the nations, and the nations are streaming in, and “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
Other Metaphors: Maybe life is a battle… but it’s also a journey, a story, a tragedy-comedy-fairy tale, a composition, a work of art, an emergence, a divergence, a convergence, a becoming, a complex web of relationships, a collaborative game, a wonderful series of accidents, a mystery, a question, a surprise, a poem, a love song… There are so many ways to find meaning, and to create meaning in this wonderful, wild life.
(Thanks to Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Bradley Jersak, Kevin Kelly, Frederick Buechner, N.T. Wright, and others for inspiring some of the ideas and images above)